Books on the history of housekeeping
August 11, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading At Home by Bill Bryson, and it's a pretty fun book, but what I REALLY want is the actual housekeeping side of things rather than the recent history of Western people as told through the house, which is what this book is serving up.

I know about books like Mrs. Beeton's etc., but what I want is less a housekeeping manual of-the-time and more a pop history of how people have kept house on a day to day basis. A quick google isn't really getting me anything. From what I'm seeing, I worry that this just isn't a thing, because it's too broad a topic (so I can find a book on the history of beds, maybe, but not the history of How People Kept House).

posted by hought20 to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

oh, and maybe check out the work of Dolores Hayden. She writes about architecture & urban planning from a feminist perspective, which of course often involves housework.
posted by acidic at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is definitely a thing, and a few good, accessible books come to mind:
Yes to Susan Strasser's "never done", as acidic mentioned; also
Katherine Ashenburg's The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. The latter is less about housekeeping and more about personal hygiene, but has some points on domestic chores.

I had read another social history of cleaning about two decades ago, yet can only (and unhelpfully) remember that the title had "dirt" in the name, and the design on the dust-jacket was evocative of the Jetsons.
posted by lasagnaboy at 8:59 AM on August 11, 2017

Here's one I remember from decades back, it's about the women servants who, among other responsibilities, cleaned houses.
posted by mareli at 10:13 AM on August 11, 2017

Ruth Goodman's books (How to Be a Victorian, How to be a Tudor, others) speak in depth about housekeeping in specific eras of English history.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

If these walls could talk is broadly about how people lived in and used their homes, not just how they cleaned them, but it does including housekeeping details. (It was definitely on the lighter side of pop history, but still interesting.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:51 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in cooking as well as housekeeping, I really enjoyed Something from the Oven, which is about how the food industry in the 1950s tried, with varied success, to convince American women to cook with new processed foods. It's a fun read, and it gets at all sorts of interesting things about evolving ideas about domesticity.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2017

Seconding Ruth Goodman. Also maybe Judith Flanders's The Victorian House, though the Guardian review is quite mixed.

And Amanda Vickery's Behind Closed Doors: at home in Georgian England, though it's wider than just housekeeping.

You might like to look at the books on Goodreads tagged as domestic history.
posted by paduasoy at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Again, if you are also interested in cookery you might really like From Hardtack to Homefries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals by Barbara Haber which has a bunch of delightful anecdotes in different chapters about things like the woman who did the cooking in the FDR White House and the history of food as a method of rehabilitating soldiers (i.e. in army hospitals)
posted by jessamyn at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2017

Guide to Easier Living by Russel Wright and Mary Wright (1950) was very influential. This is basically a handbook showing how Americans modernized their households.
"The Wrights' ideas revolutionized American living and the way everyday people dealt with the unending job of keeping a home in order."
posted by belau at 8:50 PM on August 11, 2017

Ruth Goodman!!!!! Look on ebay and such for early Home Ec textbooks. The House Servant's Directory. The Butler's Guide.
posted by AliceBlue at 5:04 AM on August 12, 2017

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